Eight days after the FA Cup Fourth Round draw was made, Arsenal have finally confirmed to Manchester United the number of away fans they will be permitted at the Emirates. Bear in mind that the tie itself is on January 25th, fewer than 10 days away.
United fans, who must travel on a Friday night to watch the game, are yet to even know if they have a ticket for the game. The cheapest return train ticket down to London for the game is currently at £82. There won’t be any in a couple of days’ time. The last train home is at 11PM. The game doesn’t kick off until just before 8PM. It’s all farcical.
10 days until game: finally a decision
The gap between the date of the draw and the date of the game itself is only 18 days. It took four to decide when it would actually be played and a further four to decide how many fans could attend.
And yet, after all that time, it’s still been decided that Arsenal, against the wishes of their own supporters’ trust (AST) as well as the supporters trust of Manchester United (MUST) and the Manchester United Football Club itself, are allowed to slash the allocation for the traveling United fans.
The rules of the FA Cup are that home sides give 15% of their full stadium to the away fans. It’s one of the key reasons that FA Cup atmospheres can be so special and different. Should Arsenal have followed that rule, United would be permitted to bring 9,000 fans against the Emirates, a stadium that is all too often quieter than its 60,000 capacity commits it to be.
United away allocation cut due to 'safety concerns'
Arsenal have decided that United should be given only 5,233 tickets for the FA Cup on January 25th, in line with ‘safety concerns’. There are worries that United fans will be guilty of ‘persistent standing’.
Lincoln City, a side who averaged around 4,000 fans for home games in the National League, were given the full 9,000 allocation at the Emirates. Quite why Lincoln fans are less likely to stand than their Mancunian counterparts is not explained. Perhaps there’s something in the water.
Arsenal make their decision based on the club’s safety advisory group, which comprises of representatives from the club, police, transport authorities and local Islington Council. The decision of this group is very rarely challenged, particularly by the Football Association, who are all too happy to let the rules of their competition be bypassed.
Decision contrary to spirit of the Cup
The decision is contrary to the spirit of the FA Cup, a competition which must be different to remain attractive in contrast to the Premier League. 5,000 fans is more than United would receive for a Premier League game, but not by a huge amount.
Both MUST and United have fought against the decision in an argument which has raged on since the draw was made. It has left fans unable to make arrangements for the game, organise transport and accommodation if necessary, even apply for the tickets themselves. It’s not know whether there will actually be enough time for the club to send tickets out to fans fortunate enough to get them. Given the game is on a Friday night, any kind of collection system in London could descend into a farce, although that would be fitting with how things have gone so far.
The tie on January 25th kicks off the Fourth Round on BBC One. It’ll be a great fixture between the FA Cup’s two most successful teams. It’s just a shame it’s yet another example of football’s moneymen forgetting what the sport is about: the fans.